Painting stirs fond memories

autumn in Virginia, landscape
Virginia in the fall.

By Bruce Stambaugh

I haven’t been to my maternal grandmother’s family farm in southern Virginia for years and years. When I arrived in the state’s Shenandoah Valley recently to rejoin my wife, she had a pleasant surprise for me.

The watercolor landscape of Grandma’s family farm hung in the hallway of the apartment we had rented for the fall. We were in Virginia to help our daughter and her family on the home front during the fall. She had loaned the painting to decorate our temporary quarters.

My late mother had painted the landscape of the farm years ago. Dad framed it with well-weathered barn siding he scavenged and repurposed from the farm. There was nothing abstract about this rendering.

I can’t help but smile every time I pass by the farm scene. It brings back such pleasant memories for me.

Growing up in northeast Ohio, we seldom visited the Virginia homestead. It was just too far for a budding young family to travel. Back then it was a three-day drive without the expressways of today.

My grandmother’s two unmarried sisters, Evie and Gertrude, lived on the farm their entire lives. Like many in the south in the 1950s, they worked in a textile mill.

I keenly remember the one trip we did make to the farm when I was a youngster. With no air conditioning, the summer trip south was long and hot.

Signs I had never seen before confused me. As a youngster, I couldn’t fully comprehend “blacks only” notices pointing to the back entrances of businesses. Clearly and thankfully, those were different times.

The farm lane from the highway to the old homestead was little more than two tire tracks that twisted up and around the tree-lined hill to the house. We must have bounded out of the car like a bunch of freed puppies from a cardboard box.

As you can imagine, Grandma’s sisters were gracious hosts. But I could tell having children clamor about their house and property interrupted their normal life. I felt their constant gaze.

Family heirlooms filled the comely old home. Large photos of our great, great grandparents hung in antique oval frames on the living room wall.

The weathered tobacco barn stood behind the house. The two shed-like sides leaned away from the barn’s higher center where the tobacco was hung to dry.

Virginia family farm. watercolor
My mother’s watercolor of the Virginia family farm.
Mom made the barn the centerpiece in her watercolor. The white clapboard farmhouse peeked out from behind.

Mom painted from the perspective of the narrow path that ran down the hill to the spring that supplied the house with water. I had walked that very way with Dad to check the water level to assure our gracious hosts that we would not drain the cistern.

The highlight of the trip for me surely had to be the sumptuous Sunday dinner these two elderly ladies prepared for us. Of course, southern style fried chicken and mashed potatoes served as the main course.

Dessert is what I remember the most, however. It was the first time I had ever had German chocolate cake.

I can still taste that made from scratch layered masterpiece, slathered with yummy brown sugar frosting sprinkled with sweet coconut. I don’t know if it was the heat or by design, but that frosting just oozed down the cake’s sides.

My mother’s painting perfectly captured the Virginia farmstead. The watercolor is both a work of art and a precious timepiece of family history.

© Bruce Stambaugh 2015

A private woman has a very public life

Lucille Hastings by Bruce Stambaugh
Books have always played an integral part of Lucille Hastings' life.

By Bruce Stambaugh

For someone who relishes her privacy, Lucille Hastings of Big Prairie, Ohio has led a very public life.

Perhaps that seemingly contradictory situation is because of her love for life long learning. Hastings has had this instinctive drive to share what she learns. In short, contributing personally and professionally to the community at large has been a way of life.

That shouldn’t come as a surprise for someone who has her major life concepts down pat. Her life has revolved around her personal faith and church fellowship, service to others, which includes family, friends and the larger community.

Having lived on a farm for most of her life, she heartily reveres the land as a true gift from God. To accomplish and enjoy all that, she also believes in healthy personal lifestyles.

“I do water aerobics three times a week,” she said. “I need to watch my weight.”

Once she began her own well-researched and devised low carbohydrate diet a dozen years ago, Hastings lost 100 pounds. She has continued to be very careful about what she eats.

“Physical and emotional health are very important,” she related. Hastings said that as much for herself as for the benefit of others.

Hastings is fastidious about everything she does. But some things in life have been out of her control.

Hastings retired in 1992 from West Holmes Local Schools after serving 34 years as the library/media director in charge of the district’s libraries. Since then, she has continued as a part-time educational library/media consultant to the district.

“I retired because Jim retired,” she said, referring to her late husband. He died in 2000. “I miss Jim,” she said wistfully, “but I worked through it.” They had been married for 43 years.

She still lives on the Hastings family farm, which is rented out to an area farmer. The farm’s old barn was burned several years ago when a string of arson fires hit Holmes and surrounding counties.

Lover of the land that she is, Hastings said she marvels at how the agriculture around her has changed over the years. She has a great appreciation for her neighbors.

“The Amish have gradually moved into our area because the land was cheaper,” she said. “They are simply wonderful neighbors.”

With her background in library, it should come as no surprise that she considers herself a very organized person. She attributes that trait to enabling her to be of service to the larger community.

“Services like libraries, schools and churches happen because people make them happen,” Hastings said. “They just don’t happen by themselves.” Given her life long service to the surrounding community, Hastings clearly has done her best to improve those services for the community at large.

Here is a sampling of the many positions in which Hastings has served. She was president of the State Library Board of Ohio. She served on the Holmes County Library board for 16 years, 10 of which she was president. She was chairperson of the Ohio Reading Circle board for 16 years. That volunteer position allowed her to donate $350,000 worth of Reading Circle books to the county and local school libraries.

Hastings is a member of the Ohio Director of Agriculture’s 12-person advisory committee for administration of Ohio’s $25 million Clean Air/Clean Water Fund for Farmland Preservation.

She was the first woman president of the Holmes County Farm Bureau, and she is the only woman Sunday school teacher at her church. She has taught Sunday school for 60 years, and she is chairperson of the Mission Ministry at Ripley Church of Christ. She was a member of the Holmes County board of elections for eight years.

Hastings good works haven’t gone unnoticed. She has been dooly recognized for her many efforts. She received the Martha Holden Jennings Outstanding Teacher Award in 1974. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. That same year Hastings received the Outstanding Alumni Award from Kent State University, where she received her Master of Arts Degree.

Hastings has two sons. Joel lives in Dallas, Texas, and Sidney resides in St. Louis, Missouri.

“I feel like I have been blessed,” she said. “I have had some unique opportunities.” And because she made the most of those chances, the community has reaped the benefits.

That’s what happens when life long learning is generously and graciously shared.

This article appeared in the Holmes Bargain Hunter, August 30, 2010.